HL Deb 30 June 1992 vol 538 cc657-9

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy for the protection of internationally important wildlife sites.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the Government play their full part in international discussions concerning protection of internationally important wildlife sites. We warmly welcome the adoption of the EC Habitats Directive, and are considering the means of implementation. We are committed to the designation of special protection areas under the EC Birds Directive, and wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention; and we contribute fully to the Council of Europe's biogenetic reserves network.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I think he has confirmed that new legislation will be needed. Can he say when the legislation is likely to be forthcoming? Will it aim to strengthen the existing protection for sites of special scientific interest? At the moment they are being damaged at an alarming rate.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, under the existing arrangements, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 will form the basis for implementing the directive. The sites which are designated as special areas of conservation are most likely to be drawn from the best of the existing SSSI network. We are considering whether further legislation will be necessary, and we shall consult on our proposals in due course.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that the protection of wildlife needs constant review? For example, there are now so many magpies in the country that they threaten the existence of our songbirds. Everyone who knows anything about nature knows that that is occurring, yet no one is allowed to do anything about it. It is time that there was an annual review of the protective measures that are needed. Another example is that there are so many badgers in the country that it is difficult to accept any further increase. All such matters need constant review, otherwise nature keeps its own balance.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord that continual review is required.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I should like to express my congratulations to the noble Viscount on his commitment. Is he aware that, as evidence of that commitment, 10 per cent. of the land surface of Scotland is now designated as SSSIs? Will the Minister, in pursuance of his policy, take a balanced view which will protect the employment of people in the countryside as well as protecting wildlife?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I feel that point is slightly wide of the Question.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that in view of recent publicity there is doubt about the future of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which was referred to in the Carver Report? Can he give an assurance that the Government intend to keep the JNCC operation, as described in that report?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the Government remain fully committed to the implementation of their nature conservation policies through the structure of the three country councils and the JNCC.

Baroness David

My Lords, the general intentions of the Government seem to be splendid; but are there definite plans to speed up the designation of special protection areas from the present rate of only four per annum? Since 29 sites were identified on 1st April 1992, would not the present rate result in an unacceptably long delay for certain areas?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, we are pleased with our progress on the matter. We have designated 52 SPAs and 54 Ramsar sites under an accelerating programme. We expect to designate 30 more this financial year.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, while my noble friend considers designating these sites, will he recall that in many of those areas the human population is equally fragile and requires as much attention as the animals and wildlife?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I agree that consultation with owners, occupiers and other interested parties is also necessary to resolve apparent conflicts before a designation can be made.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, in the light of the Minister's reply, will the Government go ahead with their road building plans where there are sites of special scientific interest?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the sites of special scientific interest are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Every consideration will he taken into account.

Earl Grey

My Lords, what steps are being taken to help farmers manage farmlands of international wildlife importance in ways which will benefit nature conservation?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, there are a whole range of measures on the subject which have been offered to farmers.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, we were promised an environmental protection agency in the manifesto, but as yet there is no sign of one. The ODA has produced an excellent report about environmental action for the world. When will the Government show a similar commitment to the environment of this country?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the Government are fully committed to the environment of this country.